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Emerging Trends in Weight Loss Medications

The landscape of weight loss medications is on the brink of a significant shift, with new drugs in development poised to enhance fat burning while minimizing side effects. This follows the success of existing GLP-1 drugs like Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and Wegovy, and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro and Zepbound. The upcoming drugs not only aim to tackle diabetes and obesity but also promise to improve liver and heart health, addressing common side effects like muscle loss.

Innovations in GLP-1 Drug Development

At the 2024 American Diabetes Association conference in Orlando, researchers will present data on 27 GLP-1 drugs currently in the pipeline. Dr. Marlon Pragnell, ADA’s vice president of research and science, highlighted the surge in new drug candidates spanning various stages of development, from early preclinical to late-stage clinical trials. “We’ve heard about Ozempic and Mounjaro, but now we’re seeing numerous drug candidates in the pipeline, from very early-stage preclinical to late-stage clinical,” he said.

FDA Approval and Drug Availability

While a large portion of the data presented comes from animal studies or early-stage human trials, some findings include mid-to late-stage trials. However, it’s important to note that FDA approval for most of these drugs is still years away. Nevertheless, some could be available in the U.S. within the next few years.

Accelerated Progress in GLP Drug Development

Dr. Christopher McGowan, a gastroenterologist and weight loss clinic operator in Cary, North Carolina, remarked on the rapid progress in GLP drug development. “We’ve witnessed an unprecedented acceleration in the development of GLP drugs,” he said, noting the necessity for new, affordable medications with fewer side effects.

Novel Drug Candidates Beyond GLP-1

Beyond GLP-1 drugs, other innovative medications are emerging. Zealand Pharma, a Denmark-based biotech firm, released data on their experimental weight loss drug petrelintide. This drug, which mimics the hormone amylin, has shown promising results, reducing body weight by an average of 8.6% at 16 weeks with potentially fewer side effects like nausea, which are common with GLP-1 drugs such as Wegovy and Zepbound.

Exploring Glucagon’s Potential in Weight Loss

An exciting development in the weight loss drug arena is the potential use of glucagon, a hormone that regulates blood sugar and can mimic exercise effects. Pemvidutide, a drug from Maryland-based biotech firm Altimmune, incorporates both GLP-1 and glucagon. In a phase 2 trial involving 391 adults with obesity or weight-related comorbidities, patients on the highest dose of pemvidutide lost an average of 15.6% of their body weight after 48 weeks, compared to a 2.2% loss in the placebo group. This is comparable to results seen with semaglutide over a longer period. Dr. Scott Harris, Altimmune’s chief medical officer, noted that the drug not only aids in weight loss but also provides liver and heart health benefits, preserving lean body mass. “If people take the drugs long term, what’s going to be their long-term health? What’s going to be the long-term effects on their body composition, their muscle, their ability to function?” Harris questioned. Altimmune plans to start a phase 3 trial soon, with hopes of making the drug available in the U.S. by 2028.

Patient Perspectives on Weight Loss Medications

Danielle Griffin, a 38-year-old from Elida, New Mexico, shared her struggle with existing weight loss medications.

Addressing Drug Shortages and Cost Issues

Expanding the range of weight loss drugs is crucial, according to experts, as it could help alleviate shortages seen with current drugs like those from Novo Nordisk and Lilly. Increased competition might also lower the high cost of these medications, which can exceed $1,000 for a month’s supply, making them financially inaccessible for many patients. Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, emphasized that patients respond differently to treatments. “Different GLP-1 drugs may have varying levels of efficacy and potency,” she said. “Some patients may respond better to one drug over another, depending on how their body metabolizes and responds to the medication.”

Patient Perspectives on Weight Loss Medications

Danielle Griffin, a 38-year-old from Elida, New Mexico, shared her struggle with existing weight loss medications. Despite starting Ozempic in June 2022 and later trying Wegovy and Mounjaro, she saw minimal results, losing only about 10 pounds over two years. “She really expected to see a huge difference in my weight, and I just never saw it,” she said of her doctor’s expectations. Griffin is hopeful about new medications on the horizon, stating, “I would be willing to try it. It could be life-changing, honestly, and that alone gives me something to look forward to.”

Eli Lilly’s Forthcoming GLP-1 Innovations

Eli Lilly is also developing two more GLP-1 drugs. Retatrutide, an injectable drug combining GLP-1, glucagon, and GIP (another hormone that enhances sugar breakdown), has shown impressive results in early trials, with an average weight loss of about 24% (approximately 58 pounds). New data revealed that the medication also significantly reduced blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. Another drug, mazdutide, developed in partnership with Chinese biotech firm Innovent Biologics, combines GLP-1 and glucagon. In a phase 3 study in China, a 6-milligram dose of mazdutide led to an average body weight reduction of 14.4% after 48 weeks, along with a reduction in serum uric acid, a chemical associated with obesity.

Advancements in Metabolic Condition Treatments

Improving metabolic conditions is another focus. German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim’s survodutide, which uses both GLP-1 and glucagon, showed a 19% weight loss in a phase 2 trial and significant improvements in patients with metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH). Dr. Waheed Jamal, Boehringer Ingelheim’s vice president, highlighted the drug’s potential to benefit those with cardiovascular, renal, and metabolic conditions. The company plans to begin a phase 3 trial, aiming to make a meaningful difference in the lives of people with these conditions.